Sentimental censorship

Mark Lawson in The Guardian:

Kureishi_2 Last week, I was part of a panel which placed Hanif Kureishi on a shortlist of five authors competing for the £15,000 Radio 4/Prospect short-story prize, the BBC decided his entry could not be broadcast. The BBC corporation felt that the transmission of Weddings and Beheadings – which is told from the perspective of a young Middle Eastern film-maker who has ended up operating the camera at al-Qaida executions of western hostages – would be insensitive while the BBC reporter Alan Johnston is being held by kidnappers in Gaza.

What’s most concerning is that Kureishi’s story was not written with any reference to Alan Johnston – nor, except through morbid speculation, could any have been read in at the time of judging. At least two of the judges, as it happens, have deep concerns about the currently popular genre of drama-doc. So one of the aspects of Kureishi’s story that was admired was that it so clearly created a generic situation from a specific phenomenon. No reader, listener or relative could conclude that the writer was describing any single online execution. Indeed, what’s most striking – and, for me, honourable – about the story is that it doesn’t concentrate on the hostage or the terrorist, stock figures in fiction who raise questions of ethics and empathy when dramatised, but on the figure of the camera-operator. Kureishi speculates on how a talented, creative young man could have been diverted towards this barbaric parody of art. The story does not remotely glorify or support such actions but asks: how could people do this?

More here.